How much sound can our ears tolerate?

Sound pollution or noise pollution – we hear about it every day, and that it’s only increasing day by day. Because of increase in population and vehicles, as well as industrialization and development, sound pollution has increased drastically in the recent times. But there arises one question. How much sound can our ears really tolerate? 85 decibels. When sound exceeds this level or frequently heard, it affects ear health which may lead to hearing problems.

Rock bands make sound around 110 decibels. One normal conversation is 50-60 decibels. Wispers are 20 decibels. Hearing problems when 85 decibel sound is heard for 8 long hours is equal to 90-95 decibel sound heard for 2 hours. When the intensity of sound increases, ear problems also increase proportionally, which may lead to impaired hearing.

Which group of people are more prone to hearing issues?

Those professionals associated with different types of musical instruments or percussionists, those who work in factories or at places with heavy traffic suffer with noise pollution most. If you have to travel frequently through busy roads where heavy horns can’t be avoided, you also belong to the same category. Anyone exposed to high frequency voice for prolonged hours have more changes for hearing defects.

Some people have a habit to use ear phone while sleeping or just before you fall to sleep. When the whole body is in sleeping mode, the voice of ear phone directly reaches brain disturbing sound sleep. When you are deprived of sleep, a few other health issues also follow, such as tiredness, anxiety, head ache, loss of interest in work, stress, feeling sleepy etc. It also affects concentration of work. That’s one of the main reasons why companies make noiseless fans and air conditioners.

There are ‘noise laws’ to be followed at public places as well as working atmosphere. If you are working in an atmosphere with noise pollution, your employer is liable to give you regular breaks at intervals. Interior and exterior design can also be done to absorb excess noise.  Proper insulation, planting trees, block excess sounds for fixed time intervals etc are a few laws which common man is unaware of.

Even small sounds for long hours are annoying

Heavy traffic in a busy city leads to noise pollution

Most sounds around us come without an invitation. A noisy fan, sound of machinery etc are quite a few. When two or three less annoying sounds combine together, they can make huge noise. Construction work, high voice of tape recorder, fireworks and musical instruments during festivals etc are a few more. If you buy a ticket to watch a show where a high frequency speaker is used, you may find it enjoyment. Same thing may annoy you, if you are forced to hear it without your consent. If you are a student preparing for exams, the sound can disturb your studies, definitely.

Sound may be of any type. If it goes above 85 decibels for long hours, you are to suffer its consequences. Even if the person or organization has received license or permit for sound display, if it causes sound pollution and disturbance to public, legal action can be taken. As per Section 15 Environment Act, the part may be penalized. Holy places, schools and other educational institutions, hospitals, reserve forests and wild life sanctuaries are grouped under silent zone. Loud speaker is prohibited within 100 metres of all these above.

Music can also act as a villain

Music played in mobile in a public place can disturb others

Music can provide positive energy to mind and body. But if you listen to music for continuous hours, it can affect your hearing capacity. It’s most applicable to those who use ear phones and watch videos on mobiles for long hours. If you are able to put barrier on your daily ‘musical’ activities, problems of future can be avoided. Infection of ear can affect body balance. The main challenge is not to identify ear defects at early stages. When we hear less, we increase volume without knowing that it is because of hearing issues. It worsens the condition further and the person may become impaired. Music is good, but only for small time entertainment. Never make it a habit.

Main issues associated with sound pollution

Discomfort – We love to stay calm during resting hours, thinking hours and sleeping time. When we are exposed to high frequency sounds while we are doing anyone of these activities, we get mentally disturbed. It leads to stress and head ache.

Ear pain – 140 decibel sound leads to ear pain. If it crosses and reaches 160, tympanic membrane may break and we completely loss hearing ability becoming deaf.

Stress and anger – If you are working in a ‘sound’ atmosphere you may feel impatient and angry easily. Slowly both these become a part of your character, thus affecting your personality in a negative and wrong way. Excess sound may affect your concentration and thus your working ability.

Hearing impaired – Noise pollution may make you deaf. There are many cells within the interior portion of your ears which aid in your hearing ability. But frequent exposure to noise and high frequency sound can damage and destroy those cells. Both ears may not be affected equally. But more chances are that, if one ear is affected second ear may also get affected in future.

High blood pressure – Physical changes are also associated with sound pollution. Blood pressure, pressure inside brain, breathing style and pace, heart beat rate etc may go high and the person may sweat.

Eye defects – Not only ears, eyes can also be affected, as both are inter connected. Iris may contract, thus affecting the ability of the person to identify colours.

Know these symptoms of hearing impaired earlier

If symptoms are known earlier, we can take suitable precautions and treatments. Here are a few.

1. Discomfort and noises in ears

2. Bell like sound near ears

3. Even while sound is feeble, a feeling that you are exposed to high voice

4. Speak aloud during conversation with others

5. Difficulty to hear whispers and small sounds, and also certain high pitch voices

6. Difficulty to hear phone conversations

7. High noise giving migraines

If you hear sound above 85 decibels for long 8 hours, you may temporary become deaf. But such a condition normally gets restored after 24 hours. If it’s above 130 decibels, the condition is severe. The better solution is to stay away from high frequency sounds. If it can’t be avoided, use ear plugs, voice cancelling head phone etc.

A person using ear plugs

If you are exposed to high noise throughout daytime, use music and television with low volume to give rest to your ears and mind. When you go out for weekends, choose noise free locations for relaxation. Avoid loud music and the use of head phones while sleeping. Let silence heal all the wounds given by noises!

Image source: Pixabay, Wikipedia


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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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